A senate committee has decided to put off for a week or two its vote on the reappointment of Office of Personnel Management Director Donald Devine to a second four-year term. By making this position subject to reconfirmation every four years, Congress signaled its special interest in making sure that the federal civil service is both well-managed and protected from undue political interference. Mr. Devine's record suggests that the committee is wise to take a closer look at his suitability for reappointment.
It is hardly surprising that an OPM director charged with laying off and downgrading thousands of nondefense workers is not especially popular among bureaucrats. But Mr. Devine seems to have gone out of his way to make this task, and some others, as unpleasant and disruptive as possible. Even when pursuing sensible ideas, such as increasing competition in federal health insurance or revamping the federal charity drive, he managed, through petulance or inattention, to bollix up the changes to the disadvantage of everyone affected, including the taxpayer.
After four years, he has still failed to introduce a sensible merit-based system for testing potential federal workers. Apart from spreading scare stories based on irrelevant or incorrect figures, he has made no apparent progress in developing a sorely needed pension system for new federal workers. And the antagonistic relations he has cultivated with federal workers, unions and many members of Congress from both parties make it unlikely that he will be able to provide help, much less leadership, for this important task.
In trying to give more weight to employee performance in layoffs and promotions, he so antagonized Congress that it enacted language blocking his actions. When he disregarded congressional intent, a federal appeals court forced him to comply, noting that it found Mr. Devine's arguments "singularly unpersuasive." So have other administrative and judicial review boards that have been called upon, at large cost to the government, to review a host of Mr. Devine's decisions undertaken with little regard to statutory or judicial limits.
Mr. Devine says that because he is a presidential appointee and did not bill the government for the time involved, his extensive campaigning for Jesse Helms and other Republican candidates last fall did not run afoul of federal laws restricting political activity by the bureaucracy. But Mr. Devine's subordinates are not supposed to be politicking. What was their role in his campaign trips? Why did one of them write him a memo suggesting that a pay equity measure could be used to "create disorder within the Democratic House pitting union against union and both against radicminist groups"?
Other members of this administration have come to learn, if they did not already know, the valuable services that career bureaucrats can and must perform. Four years of neglect and hostility have taken their toll on the civil service. Mr. Devine's reappointment ought not to be automatic.